As a leader, each of us holds more than individual responsibility to steer clear of unnecessary conflict.
We hold corporate responsibility.
We have to set the example.
We have to develop an environment where community is the expectation and criticism is the unaccepted.
Not criticism of the status quo, mind you. Not a questioning of decisions or constructive feedback. These are critical for growth of an organization, project, team or leader.
But criticism to tear apart with no objective other than destruction. Criticism for the purpose of creating conflict and done for selfish reasons.
I know I’ve spent a lot of time on this topic, spurred by a personal experience, but there’s a development objective as well.
The goal in all of our teams and boards and companies is to attract, retain and develop our best talent. It’s the mission of the women’s organization I lead. It’s a highly sought after objective for most leaders I encounter. You want to bring in the best, keep them around, and promote them through the organization.
Creating community through shared values and objectives helps achieve that lofty goal. Inserting conflict and angst is one of the quickest ways to short-circuit that vision.
So how do we lead in such a way that community becomes the norm and conflict becomes unwelcome?
1. Practice it. Those examples I gave yesterday about how community can turn into conflict can be headed off at the pass if you model the best in the community. You encourage the differences in your teams and you welcome the opportunity to find common ground and unite the team in a common vision and mission.
2. Recognize the community leaders as well as the pot-stirrers. It can be fun to have the easy conversations. You just have to remind yourself. Pull Sarah aside for her ability to team-build or let Judy know that her encouragement of others is a tremendous asset. Pay them more. Promote them for playing by the team rules. But even though the other conversations are hard, you also have to talk to the people who are attacking or undervaluing individuals on the team. Even if the attacks are aimed at you. Meet Angie for coffee to tell her that her gossip about colleagues is hurting morale and won’t be tolerated or tell Karen that it’s unfortunate she doesn’t like your style but you’re going to have to find a way to work together. Don’t offer them opportunities to lead if they fail to change their attitude.
3. Ask for insight from others. If you have a thorny group dynamic, meet with other leaders in your company in a different group. Get your girlfriends together and brainstorm about ways to handle the conflict that continues to divert you from achieving a united team.
Choosing community over conflict is always worth it. The growing pains for a leader to get past the conflict to the community can be hard. But the benefits for the individuals, the team, and the organization are extraordinary once you have achieved it.